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Sunday, November 17, 2013

FRANCES HA Criterion Review

Courtesy of The Criterion Collection

Criterion Collection DVD Review
2013, 86 minutes
Rated R for sexual references and language

The Criterion Collection just released Noah Baumbach’s quirkfest Frances Ha in a Blu-ray/DVD combo release and while the special features aren’t the best that Criterion has given us over the past few years, the movie itself is so delightful that I would certainly recommend buying if you’re a fan.  I would not, however, recommend this film as a blind buy, as its very offbeat sense of humor and meandering narrative will not be to everyone’s tastes. 

I am a big fan of Frances Ha.  Viewing Criterion’s release was my first viewing of the film since I screened it in early May and watching it again was a delight.  I gave the film a 3.5/4 in the spring and I stand by that rating, but I now have a new appreciation for the film.

The film tells the story of a twenty-something woman, Frances (Greta Gerwig), who lives with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner).  Frances isn’t rich and does absolutely nothing to help her financial situation.  She has no aim in life.  She’s stuck in that period when people try to figure out their lives, but she is way too old to still be figuring out her life.
One of the many beautiful aspects of the screenplay is that Noah Baumbach and his co-writer (and star of the film) Greta Gerwig are completely aware of the ridiculousness of Frances’ situation.  Frances really has everything except the drive to get a job and take control of her life.  Gerwig and Baumbach are never condescending towards Frances, but they never take pity on her make it seem as if her situation is horrible.  For every dark undertone, there is a lot of comedy and lightness.  They make Frances look outrageous.  The situations she finds herself in are realistic, but very comical.  Again, we are never asked to pity Frances - we are simply asked to root for her.  Gerwig, in the performance of a lifetime, makes Frances a real, lovable person, flaws and all.  Gerwig has a bizarre screen presence.  Everything about her and her timing is just slightly off, but she creates such a sunny character that we can’t help but love her.  

Underneath Frances Ha is an undertone of loneliness and sadness, but these never overpower the contagious energy and positivity that the film gives off.  The film is in beautiful digital black-and-white and features a mix of ‘80s pop songs and music by French New Wave composer George Delerue (Jules and Jim, Shoot the Piano Player).  Because the film is new and didn’t require any massive restoration, there isn’t much to comment on in terms of the look of the Criterion release itself.

The special features on this film are somewhat lacking, which is a shame, as Frances Ha is such a fascinating film.  It is fascinating in the sense that it is an homage to the French New Wave, but is also a comment on the current generation of twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn who have no idea what to do with their lives.  The special features include an interview with Noah Baumbach conducted by Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), an interview with Greta Gerwig conducted by Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Stories We Tell), a conversation between Baumbach, cinematographer Sam Levy, and Pascan Dangin who did the film’s color mastering.  The conversation between Polley and Gerwig is definitely the best, as Polley, being an actress herself, asks some very interesting questions that get Gerwig to reveal a lot about her thoughts regarding the character of Frances and how she perceives her. 

The interview with Baumbach is interesting, but I would have liked to hear more about his thoughts on Frances and her life.  Most of the interview, Baumbach talks about why he decided to make a film like Frances Ha and how he created it.  Much of this is very interesting, particularly the part where he reveals that the entire movie, save for the sequence where Frances goes back home to see her parents (played by Gerwig’s real parents), is scripted.  For a movie that feels very natural and loose (in the best possible way), it was shocking to find out that it wasn’t improvised. 

The conversation between Baumbach, Levy, and Dangin didn’t interest me much, as it was very technical and the three didn’t break down the technicalities of coloring the film and achieving its look for those who don’t know anything about the coloring process.  Those who know about the technical aspects of cinematography and coloring will find this conversation fascinating, but I was very lost through much of it.

Overall, Frances Ha is a fantastic movie given an average treatment by the usually incredible Criterion Collection.  I wish that there had been more about production on the actual film and simply more special features.  A director’s commentary would have been enlightening, as it seems like a large amount of thought and effort was put into composing each shot and blocking each scene.  Again, I’d highly recommend buying this if you’re a fan of the film, but wouldn’t recommend this for the special features or as a blind buy.

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